Human Rights and Democracy Report 2015 - Human Rights Priority Country update report: July to December 2016 - Iran

The human rights situation in Iran remains deeply worrying. There were some encouraging developments in the last 6 months of 2016; however the overall situation still gives real cause for concern.

Iran continues to use the death penalty. It has been estimated that there were more than 300 executions in Iran in the second half of 2016, bringing the estimated total for 2016 to more than 470. Although this number of executions appears to be much lower than the number recorded in 2015, it is clear Iran remains one of the most prolific users of the death penalty in the world.

The apparent reduction in the number of executions may be due to shifting attitudes towards using the death penalty for drugs offences. In 2015, drug-related offences accounted for nearly two thirds of all executions in Iran. In October 2016, 150 MPs in the 290-seat parliament endorsed a bill that would end capital punishment for minor drug trafficking. The proposal calls for an amendment to Article 46 of the Law Against Drug Trafficking which would limit the death penalty to organised drug lords, armed trafficking and repeat offenders and reduce punishment for minor drug crimes to life imprisonment or less. The draft bill is currently subject to further deliberation and needs approval of the Guardian Council.

Women do not enjoy the same rights and privileges as men in Iran and continue to face discrimination. In September, the Office of the Supreme Leader issued a statement reiterating that women are not allowed to ride a bicycle in public. The statement said that “Women riding bikes in public and in front of strangers often attract the attention of men and it exposes society to deception and seduction. It is against the pure status of women and should be abandoned”.

In 2012, the long-term ban on women’s presence at football matches was extended to volleyball in Iran. However, in July a small group of women were allowed to watch the Iran-Serbia volleyball match at the Azadi Sports Complex in Tehran. This concession was set as a condition by the International Federation of Volleyball in order for Iran to host the match. Unfortunately, the women allowed into the stadium were not members of the public, instead being specially selected by Iranian authorities. There are no signs of the long-term ban being over turned.

In a positive development 17 female MPs were elected to the Majlis in May 2016. For the first time, there will be more women than clerics in the Iranian parliament.

There has been little progress on improving access to social media, despite President Rouhani’s positive comments in October 2015. In December 2016, all Iranian-owned channels with more than 5,000 followers on the country’s most popular messaging application, Telegram, were required to seek official permits in order to operate. The authorities claim that this will make social media activists provide news and information from reliable sources. There have also been accusations of the most popular Telegram channels being hacked by the Iranian cyber police and the owners of these channels being interrogated.

In October, more than 70 people were arrested at a gathering to celebrate Cyrus Day at the tomb of Cyrus the Great in Pasargadae, Fars Province for chanting anti-regime slogans. They were tried in mid-December without legal counsel and sentenced to long prison terms.

Religious minorities continue to face restrictions in Iran. Members of both constitutionally recognised and unrecognised religions continue to suffer discrimination for peacefully manifesting their religious beliefs.

The UN Special Rapporteur estimates there are at least 70 Baha’i’s detained in Iran and in November Iranian authorities closed down over 100 Baha’i businesses in response to their temporarily closing to observe Baha’i holy days. In December, the group of 24 Baha’i bloggers imprisoned earlier in the year successfully appealed against elements of their sentences resulting in a reduction of between 2 and 5 years in their original prison terms. However, despite this successful appeal the court still found them guilty of threatening national security by discussing issues regarding their faith.

Over the last 6 months of 2016 there have been reports of Christians being subject to increasing restrictions. House church leaders and Christian converts report being arrested or harassed by security services and in August there were reports of Church property being confiscated in Karaj.

Several UK/Iranian dual nationals are detained in Iran. The Iranian government does not recognise dual nationality and on that basis denies our repeated requests for consular access to the detainees. We have therefore not been able to assess their welfare, health or the conditions in which they are being held. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office raises their cases with the Iranian government at every opportunity and maintains regular contact with their families.

The UK government continues to take action with international partners to improve the human rights situation in Iran. Earlier in the year, at the Human Rights Council, the UK strongly supported the renewal of the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur and in December we welcomed the UN General Assembly’s adoption of the Resolution on Human Rights in Iran. The resolution passed with an increased number of votes in favour when compared last year, in large part due to UK lobbying efforts.

On the same day as the UN resolution was adopted President Rouhani announced a Charter on Citizens’ Rights and introduced a new position of a Special Assistant to the President in Citizens’ Rights Affairs to help implement it. The charter has been 3 years in the making and was one of Rouhani’s election campaign promises. It has 22 chapters including the right to freedom of speech and the right to a fair trial. The charter is the first of its kind in Iran; however, it only appears to repeat rights that are already legally enshrined and it remains to be seen whether the enjoyment of these rights by citizens will improve as a result.